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ATM Scams: How to Avoid Getting Skimmed

Criminals can abscond with ATM customers’ money without even confronting their victims.

How to Avoid ATM Skimming Scam

How? Cash machines are targeted by crooks who attach phony electronic devices – sometimes very well crafted and difficult to detect – over the ATM’s card reader and then rig a hidden camera close by, on the machine itself or on a nearby light fixture, according to an FBI reports on ATM skimmers.

An unsuspecting ATM customer inserts his bank card into the fake card reader, which then “skims” the account information from the card’s magnetic strip and stores the stolen data or sends it wirelessly to the thieves. Meanwhile, the hidden camera “shoulder surfs,” recording the customer’s hand movements as he inputs his PIN; similarly, a false keypad may be used to record the customer’s keystrokes. With the bank card information and the PIN, the criminal may encode a new, blank card to gain easy access to a victim’s account at any number of ATMs.

Defend Yourself

So, what’s a consumer to do to avoid being skimmed? The FBI recommends inspecting any ATM – whether it’s at a bank, a gas pump or elsewhere – and looking for anything suspicious like scratches or residue from adhesive or tape. Always cover the keypad with one hand when typing in a PIN, and try to use an indoor ATM when possible; it’s tougher for crooks to set up skimmers in well-trafficked areas. Keep an eye on bank statements, sign up for alerts that let you know of unusual account activity and consider an identity-theft protection and monitoring service like LifeLock. PCWorld suggests watching out for anyone milling about near an ATM and being wary of using an ATM that’s in a remote area or doesn’t appear to be part of a nearby business or bank.

Thieves Pay the Price

While losses related to skimming have been on the rise the past several years, the good news is that skimmers are being caught and serving time for their crimes. Some recent cases in the news include:

  • A 29-year-old Georgia man was sentenced in November 2012 to 38 months in federal prison for several skimming-related charges. He was ordered to pay more than $72,000 in restitution.
  • Also in November 2012, a 22-year-old Romanian from Broward, Fla., received a 3.5-year sentence in federal prison. He was found guilty of charges related to aggravated identity theft and possession of an ATM-skimming device and two “pinhole cameras” with video recorders, the Sun Sentinel.reports.
  • A 32-year-old Romanian man was recorded on camera placing a skimmer device on an ATM in England, and was subsequently apprehended when he returned to dismantle it. Techworld.com reported that the man, who is believed to have skimmed more than 9,000 PINs, is facing a jail sentence.

The takeaway is that vigilance is key to beating the skimmers. Watch your surroundings, be on the lookout for anything unusual and stay on top of your finances.

ATM Scams

ATM Thefts and ATM Scams

ATM ScamsATM thefts and ATM money scams are unfortunately very real and are very devastating to the victim of these horrible crimes. The organization Global ATM Security Alliance reportedly states that out of all of the crimes and frauds committed worldwide, about .0016% of them are ATM transactions. Everything to do with money theft from stolen checks, to stolen credit cards to having your ATM debit card stolen is unnerving and unsettling. In the end, you often feel very violated because something very personal has been taken away from you.

ATM card thefts are very common because unlike credit cards, thieves can easily use them since they give them access instantaneously to your cash, without the need for authorization or a signature, like with a credit card. A pin number is all that a money thief needs to access your ATM card, and in some cases, they can still access your bank account without it. If they’re shopping online or through a retailer who doesn’t require any identification verification, the thief can simply produce the ATM card and access your money or use the card to purchase goods or services.

What kinds of ATM scams are there?

Is it just your ATM card in danger, or your entire bank account?

What can you do to protect yourself from these scams and theft situations?

Fake, Fake, Fake

When it comes to ATM access, thieves will try just about anything to gain access to your money. A fake ATM machine and/or a fake PIN pad are just two things they will try and use to do this. Thieves may use a wireless video camera that’s mounted inside of the ATM area that’s looks as harmless as perhaps a brochure holder or a shelf. The tiny camera hidden inside of this contraption is actually recording the numbers from your ATM card. Magnetic strips are easy to duplicate, and once the thieves have your information from your card, they can have another ATM easily reproduced.

Stop the possibility of this happening by paying close attention to your surroundings. Get into and make it a habit of going to and using the same ATM machine for all of your cash transactions. By doing this, you’ll become familiar with the machine, its surroundings, and you’ll start to notice when (or if) there are any changes with the machine, especially if the owner of the machine hasn’t published any notices or information about there being any changes.

Shoulder Surfing and Skimming

Shoulder Surfing and SkimmingIt’s bound to happen at least once; the machine eats your ATM card. Your first reaction is to go into the bank to report it, or if it’s after business hours, you may leave the ATM machine and wait to report it later. Although this does and can happen, there are a couple of other things to notice if this scenario takes place:

  • Are there other people around you, waiting to use the machine, and offer to “help” you retrieve your ATM card?
  • The Good Samaritan who offers to “help” you encourages you to keep entering your PIN number to try and retrieve the card.
  • Your ATM withdrawal gets “stuck” in the tray, and the stranger offers to stay there and guard it while you go and get help.

An external device is used here to gain your ATM information. The thief may have placed a blocking device into the ATM card machine that traps your card and/or your money. The blocking device may be something as simple as glued film that captures and traps the ATM cards. When customers use the machine and enter their PIN’s, there may be thieves nearby watching and mentally recording their PIN number so they can access it later, after the customer has given up in frustration and walked away.

This type of scam is also known as shoulder surfing or skimming, and unfortunately is also very common. Never rely on the assistance of a complete stranger to help you retrieve your ATM card or to watch the cash tray for you. You should also never use or transact any information around an ATM machine where people are loitering and lingering around for no apparent reason. Busy areas will understandably have high foot traffic, but watch for ATM machine traffic where people are watching the machine, and watching the people who use the machine.

Money thieves and ATM theft will likely not go away any time soon, but individuals can and should do all that’s possible to decrease the possibility of fraud and scams. With a little attention to details and taking the steps to protect your financial privacy, you can do what’s necessary to avoid ATM scams and keep thieves from accessing your money.